A Tribute to Mark Richt
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love college football. I have been a fan of college football my entire life. My three favorite teams are: Auburn, Baylor and whoever plays Alabama.
The earliest game I remember is the 1967 Iron Bowl. Kenny Stabler wove through the Auburn defense that evening to secure a 7-3 Alabama win. I have either attended, watched on television or listened by radio to every Iron Bowl since.(For the record: Auburn is 21-27 during that time)
I now serve on the Baylor Board of Regents. As a part of my service to the University, I am currently a member of the Athletic Committee on that Board. I have the greatest amount of respect for our Athletic Director, Ian McCaw and the rest of the Baylor Athletic program. I would put our coaches and staff up against any in the entire country. Sic 'em Bears!
With all that said, I have watched the situation at the University of Georgia unfold with great interest. I have always loved Georgia. My parents are originally from Georgia. My wife was living in Georgia when I met her. We both have lots of family in Georgia. Georgia has always been my second-favorite SEC team. Even though the Auburn-Georgia rivalry is the oldest in the South, I have always cheered for Georgia except for that game.
This past week, Georgia fired its Head Football Coach, Mark Richt. Without a doubt, Richt is one of the best men and best coaches in all of college football. He is one good football coach. His record speaks for itself. He has won 74% of his games at Georgia (4th best of all active coaches in Division 1 football). He has won the SEC East five times and has twice won the SEC Championship Georgia had not won an SEC title in 20 years prior to his arrival). His Georgia Bulldogs have played in a bowl game every year that he has served as Head Coach. He has had 72 players drafted into the NFL. He has had nine 10-win seasons -- a bowl win this year will be ten 10-win seasons.
And--he was fired.
Richt is not just a good football coach. He is a good man. A really good man. He was a stand-out quarterback in High School in Boca Raton, Florida. He signed a football scholarship with the University of Miami with the dream of winning the Heisman Trophy and enjoying a career in the NFL. However, he was beat out at Miami by Jim Kelly (future Hall of Fame). He graduated from Miami and was not drafted. He was invited to a tryout with the Denver Broncos -- but was beat out by John Elway (future Hall of Fame). He took a year off and was invited to a tryout with the Miami Dolphins -- but was beat out by Dan Marino (future Hall of Fame).
Finally, he went into coaching. He landing a graduate assistant job at Florida State. As a grad assistant, Head Coach Bobby Bowden led Richt to faith in Jesus Christ. Mark Richt became a believer in Bowden's office. It changed his eternity and his earthly life.
He has given the rest of his life in service to Christ. He has been an unashamed, bold and gracious follower of Jesus throughout his adult life. While at Georgia, it has just been revealed that he has been paying some of his assistant coaches out of his own pocket! When a coach did not get a bowl bonus because of some stipulation, Richt paid him personally. When the university was not able to give a raise to certain coaches, Richt made up the difference with his own money. When a coach just missed an anniversary bonus because he departed to another job, Richt paid the bonus himself.
At his final meeting with the University of Georgia team this week, he was greeted with an extensive applause by his players. He is headed to coach his alma mater, the University of Miami. His Georgia players gave him the "U" greeting that is used by Miami players and fans. It was an incredible gesture of love and appreciation from his team.
Then -- one of the players sent out a tweet from Richt's final speech: "Life is about people, not rings. Rings collect dust."
This quote from a coach who has two national championship rings (Florida State Assistant) and two SEC Championship Rings (Georgia Head Coach). He has the perspective as a champion himself.
All that to say -- Mark Richt is what is good about college football. A man who is well-grounded and is very good at what he does. He is the kind of man that student athletes need in their lives. He is the kind of man who understands that there is more to life than college football. He is the kind of man who is making an eternal impact in the high-pressure world of college football. While many coaches are chasing their own dreams and often surrender to the temptation of exploiting young athletes along the way, Mark Richt has stood tall as a shining example of how to be successful in teaching young men about life as well as football.
I am just one college football fan. But Mark Richt has my utmost respect and appreciation. I wish him all the best.